This will be a session of the West Virginia Legislature like no other.
Lawmakers, advocates, lobbyists and reporters will all be working amid a pandemic. Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers for the first time in about a century. There’s a new president of the West Virginia Senate. And despite winning reelection in November, Republican Gov. Jim Justice has occasionally been at odds with lawmakers from his own party, which means even bills that sail through the legislative branch may find opposition when they hit the governor’s desk.
Plus, as always, there are important issues on the table that will help chart the future for West Virginia.
As we gear up for Mountain State Spotlight’s first year of covering the legislative session, we have a question: what do you need to know? What are you missing from other legislative coverage? What issues on lawmakers’ plates will affect you and your neighbors the most?
We want your help shaping our coverage. Fill out our quick questionnaire here, and join us on Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. for a Mountain State Spotlight virtual event to share your ideas, and hear from our reporters. Tickets are free; get them here.
Here’s who we’ve got on board, and what they’ll be keeping an eye on:
Erin is coming on board as Mountain State Spotlight’s statehouse reporter through the legislative session. She previously covered the West Virginia Legislature for both the Charleston Gazette-Mail and the Beckley Register-Herald. During the session, she’ll be following lawmakers’ top priorities (including income tax reform and the budget), asking about the measures that aren’t on the table and explaining what legislators’ actions and inactions mean for West Virginians.
Lauren is Mountain State Spotlight’s public health reporter. She’ll be playing watchdog on health policy, and is especially interested in keeping an eye on efforts by legislators to change the law governing harm reduction programs in the state. Such programs, like syringe exchanges, are universally endorsed by medical professionals as tools to help reduce infections related to drug use, but have been under fire in recent years. Last year, a state senator introduced a bill that sought to ban needle distribution across the state. It didn’t go anywhere, but public health experts fear the effort may resurface this session. Here’s Lauren’s recent reporting on the subject.
Lucas is Mountain State Spotlight’s economic development reporter. He’ll be following efforts to allocate broadband spending. Since he came to West Virginia in June, a lot of Lucas’ reporting has focused on the state’s struggles to get high-speed internet access to all West Virginians — and the constant missteps by telecommunications giant Frontier. Here’s Lucas’ previous work on this topic.
Douglas is Mountain State Spotlight’s watchdog reporter. He’ll keep an eye on any legislative chatter or actions involving CARES Act spending; here’s his reporting on all things CARES Act.
Amelia Ferrell Knisely:
Amelia is Mountain State Spotlight’s poverty reporter. She’ll be watching how — or whether — legislators take action to address problems in West Virginia’s foster care and food distribution systems. Here’s her previous reporting on the topic.
In addition, investigative reporters Ken Ward Jr. and Eric Eyre will be monitoring important issues to provide context from their many years covering West Virginia.